Japanese Tea: Kombucha (Kelp Tea)

A Random, Confusing Issue

So I saw someone randomly refer to “kabucha” in a list of food. Apparently this is a common misspelling of “kombucha,” but the problem is, the actual “kombucha” in the English language is not the Japanese “kombucha.” Since ‘n’ can be heard like ‘m’ in the middle of word pronunciation, it’s not hard to see how it can be read like that.

The problem is, in Japanese, “kombucha” is from konbu, or kelp. It is kelp tea, and the English “kombucha” is most certainly not.

So, in English, “kombucha” is a fermented, reddish culture of bacteria and yeast. This culture resembles a mushroom, and that is how the Japanese would refer to it: 紅茶キノコ, or “red tea mushroom.” Chinese refers to it similarly enough.

Obviously, someone took the name from Japan, using the name of a legitimate and common (and brown!) kelp-based tea sold commercially on Japanese soil.

Well, the Japanese have some weird loan word usage too. I’m not trying to point fingers.

Supposedly the origins of the Western “kombucha” are Chinese. At any rate, it’s a sweet drink (from the fermentation) and there are people who swear by its health benefits.

I haven’t touched the stuff, personally. I’m just a linguist here.

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: jeremiahbourque@gmail.com
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2 Responses to Japanese Tea: Kombucha (Kelp Tea)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Indeed Jeremiah, interesting to read.

  2. mabewa68 says:

    The quacks that promote the Western ‘kombucha’ are apparently as lazy about linguistics as they are about health science.

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